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FOR – Matters of Urgency — Climate Change

Sue Lines

We'll now move to urgency motions. I'm going to deal with the urgency motion put forward by Senator David Pocock, who has submitted a proposal under standing order 75:

Pursuant to Standing Order 75, I propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

That the Safeguard Mechanism reform must be effective in bringing Australia into line with holding global warming to 1.5°C. The design must be based on an emissions reduction hierarchy that delivers genuine emissions reductions while also ensuring a future for essential industries."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required b y the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly, and I call Senator Pocock.

David Pocock

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

That the Safeguard Mechanism reform must be effective in bringing Australia into line with holding global warming to 1.5°C. The design must be based on an emissions reduction hierarchy that delivers genuine emissions reductions while also ensuring a future for essential industries.

Australians elected the 47th Parliament with a mandate for real and ambitious climate action. The government may have their mandate of 43 per cent, but there are many MPs and senators with a mandate for action more in line with the science. Scientists have spent decades telling us that we need to act now to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change—effects that we are already seeing and that communities across the country are experiencing. The costs are mounting. We're seeing natural disaster after natural disaster, but we're not seeing the kind of action from politicians that we need.

The safeguard mechanism presents an opportunity for us to show the children who come through here and watch Senate proceedings, children across the country and children who have taken the government to court to say: 'You have a duty of care to look after us.' And we've seen the Australian government challenge that, and say, 'We don't have a duty of care to young people and to future generations.' We have an opportunity, with the safeguard mechanism, to begin to bring our climate action in line with the science. The safeguard mechanism has to work. It has to actually reduce emissions, and this means ensuring that emissions reductions are real and not just on paper.

Under the proposed reform, Australia will join Kazakhstan as one of only two countries in the world that allow unfettered access to offsets, and it's obviously no good. There is a huge amount of evidence and agreement on the need for an emissions reduction hierarchy. Companies must first avoid and then reduce their own emissions. Offsets can only be used as a last resort. To quote the former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb:

Offsets can't be a device which big emitters use not to change their behaviour, not to do something about reducing emissions.

I have no doubt that coalition senators will stand up and speak about how the safeguard mechanism will put industries at risk and push up prices. What they're missing is the opportunity for industry in a low-carbon economy. What they are missing is the moral obligation to act on the biggest challenge humans have ever faced.

We're blessed with an incredible wealth of resources in this country. We hear a lot about resources, and resources will be a big part of our future, but not fossil fuel resources. We need to focus on the resources of the future and stop allowing politicians to conflate the two and present people who want a livable future and a transition away from fossil fuels as people who are against resources. Our major trading partners are decarbonising and starting to give preferential treatment to low-carbon imports. That is a massive opportunity for Australia, with our incredible mineral wealth.

From the government, we will likely hear that finally something is being done and put in place for real climate policy. But we don't have time for incremental changes. We can't just say we're heading in the right direction. The fires and floods of the last few years should be a wake-up call for all of us. We owe it to those communities. We owe it to Australians. We owe it to Australians who haven't been born yet to deal with this now, and we have an opportunity with this legislation. We will likely hear that a hierarchy of mitigation is assumed in the legislation, but there is nothing explicit to ensure that we are avoiding emissions, reducing emissions and then, as a last resort, using the land sector to offset.

So I commend this to the Senate. This is a really important policy, but we have to get it right and we have to ensure that it reduces emissions in this country.

Jonathon Duniam

I thank Senator Pocock for the opportunity to speak on his urgency motion relating to the safeguard mechanism reform, which of course is a live issue in this parliament and something that there's been much deliberation upon. I note that, in the matter of urgency that Senator Pocock put before the chamber, he references global warming and keeping it to 1.5 degrees and goes on to talk about the design needing to be based on an emissions reduction hierarchy—which we've just heard him speak about—that delivers genuine emissions reductions while also ensuring a future for essential industries. I think it's important to focus on a couple of points in that as I provide a response from the coalition on this issue.

The issue of climate change is, as this motion points out, a global one. It's one where there is a global responsibility. So it is right for us to do what we can here in this country. I think it is imperative that a country that can should show responsibility and do what it can to minimise its impact on the environment, including when it comes to carbon emissions. But the problem with the matter we're dealing with, when it comes to the safeguard mechanism that is the subject of consideration here, is that there is a difference of opinion in this place about exactly how best, under what is being proposed, we can achieve what we seek to achieve: minimising human impact on the environment and, in this case, minimising carbon emissions, without having an undue and damaging impact on the economy. It's something I've talked about a couple of times here.

For what it's worth, the coalition's view is that the proposal that is referenced in broad terms in the motion is one whose environmental impact we haven't seen properly assessed. We actually don't know what impact it will have on emissions reduction. There are some projections. We've just dealt with a motion around some of the modelling that the government refuses to reveal to us. We don't know what the impact will be—what reliance on carbon credits. Similarly, we don't know what impact such a proposition will have on the economy. It is something we've flagged as needing more serious consideration and more thought put into it.

The second part of Senator Pocock's matter of urgency, particularly at the tail end—'delivering genuine emissions reductions while also ensuring a future for essential industries'—is I think absolutely important. Part of the concern the coalition has around what is currently before us is the idea that we will see industries that cannot meet emission reductions mandated under this legislation and under matching regulation and that cannot access carbon credits, either through the safeguard mechanism credits or through ACCUs, faced with this increased cost of doing business in this country. The end result, despite promises that there will be a scheme to protect these trade exposed industries, like cement manufacturing and aluminium production, will be protected through a formula. We're not convinced that that is the case. The proposal doesn't ensure a future for essential industries, and that is as important as making sure we get right what we need to when it comes to reducing emissions. If you don't get both of those things right, then we're failing on both counts, and no-one is better off.

Indeed, when you don't protect these trade exposed industries and try to bring them on the journey with you—try to work with them to invest in innovation and technology, to work with academic and educational institutions to provide better technology to minimise the impact on the environment—then those businesses, because of this penalty of $275 per tonne of carbon above the baseline, will either reduce production here, in the best case, or simply shut up shop and go offshore. Then those emissions, which we could otherwise be working with them on to minimise, will be generated offshore, somewhere else.

To go back to that original point: it's a global responsibility; it's a global problem. We can't simply offshore our problems and make someone else try to deal with them, because we will still have the issues Senator Pocock talked about before. That's why it is right to expect the information needed to understand the government's proposal and to ensure that we're getting it right in what we're putting in place to reduce emissions but also to minimise the impact on the environment for our future generations.

Jenny McAllister

Thank you, Senator Pocock, for bringing forward this afternoon's urgency debate. Action on safeguards is urgent. That is something we can both agree on. It is exactly why the government has legislation before the parliament right now that alters the safeguard mechanism so that facilities covered by the mechanism must reduce their direct emissions in the future. We can also agree, I think, that reforms to the safeguard mechanism must ensure that Australia's biggest emitters do their fair share when it comes to emissions reduction. On that basis, we're happy to support the motion and have this conversation here in the Senate. But we think it is important to be clear about the safeguard mechanism reforms that we propose and what we are doing, because we don't agree with the whole of the senator's contention in the motion.

Our government is unapologetically focused on transforming Australia's domestic economy to a low-carbon economy. It is the most important thing we can do to support the ambitious international action that is necessary to contain global warming to 1½ degrees. It's why one of our first acts in government was to legislate an ambitious but achievable emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030—a floor, not a ceiling—and our safeguard reforms have been carefully designed to support that and to support Australia's biggest emitters to remain competitive in a decarbonising global economy whilst reducing their emissions. A fit-for-purpose safeguard mechanism does provide the policy certainty for businesses to invest in decarbonisation and seize the opportunities from global energy transformation.

The mechanism we propose will progressively lower baselines, consistent with our legislated target. We estimate it will deliver 205 million tonnes of abatement by 2030. With respect to Senator Pocock, this is not trivial and this is not, as characterised, incremental. These reforms are significant, and they are designed so that all facilities, whether they are existing or new, reduce their emissions. The proposal creates strong incentives for facilities to reduce those emissions onsite and for the industrial sector to decarbonise. Of course, for facilities who may reduce emissions below their baseline, they will have the opportunity to create and sell safeguard mechanism credits. It is part of arrangements for flexibility that secure both our economic capacity and our emissions reduction. We want to ensure not only that these facilities meet their obligations but also that they can grow.

We know that many safeguard facilities are in hard-to-abate sectors, like cement and steel, where technologies have not yet been demonstrated or aren't yet commercially available. The access to flexible options is incredibly important for these sectors. ACCUs are part of this. The land sector is part of this. An ACCU represents a tonne of emissions avoided or sequestered. We are strengthening confidence in that scheme to ensure the continued integrity of that abatement. We've done that through the Chubb recommendations, which found that the scheme is sound. Of course, Professor Chubb made recommendations for reform, and we're committed to implementing those. But let's be real about this. These ACCUs contribute to our legislated targets, and they are not a free pass. Facilities that choose to use ACCUs will have to buy them on the open market, and many businesses will choose to permanently reduce emissions in their own facilities onsite.

Of course, as indicated just now and in recent weeks, those opposite have made themselves irrelevant to this process by opposing a policy that they themselves proposed to implement when they were last in government. The former government had grand plans for safeguard crediting. In fact, it was their policy right up to election day, included in their election document 'Our Plan for Resources'. Yet here we are, with coalition senators repeating the same old lines. After a decade of delay, denial and dysfunction, all that there is on offer is half-baked scare campaigns that are made up from the same old talking points.

But, for the first time in a decade, we have a parliament comprising members and senators who are willing to deliver what the Australian people have been crying out for for a decade: action on climate. They called for action loudly at the election, and now they have a government that is willing to deliver. But we cannot do this on our own. We require a majority in this place, and, when the legislation comes before senators, it will be a choice of real significance. We can seize or squander the only chance before us to get emissions down from our largest industrial emitters. I thank senators for their constructive engagement with Minister Bowen and with the government, and I look forward to the debate proper when it commences in this place.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 5:13 PM on 2023-03-07
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 32
Total number of "no" votes: 27
Total number of abstentions: 17

Adapted from information made available by